How One Australian Woman Turned Tinder Into A Successful New York Art Project
When seventeen first dates becomes a series of beautiful photos.
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Ahhh, Tinder: that veritable slush pit of random dick pics and crude sexual advances. Would it be possible, wondered Aussie photographer Kirra Cheers, to find genuine human connections via a mobile application infamous for hook-ups?
Earlier this year, Cheers began furiously swiping right, and within two months managed to chalk up an exhausting 17 first dates in her adopted home of New York, a city particularly enamored with digital dating. “It was completely insane. I was booking dinnertime dates and lunchtime dates on the one day sometimes,” Cheers, 26, says.
Each time, she fielded a special little moment of awkward by asking to take her date’s photograph. The result is Tinderella, a series of eleven candid black and white portraits — six dates refused to be photographed — that, paired with snippets of Tinder conversations and even an audio recording of an entire date are oddly meaningful and revealing.
Tinder Romantics: “Charm My Sack”
“I was called a predator on more than one occasion,” Cheers says of the process. “But I felt the photographs were an indication of the dynamic between me and the person.
“The resulting portrait depends on how comfortable we were, how attracted we were to one-another — even how much we’d had to drink. Asking to take their photograph often actually increased the connection, like I was inviting them into my world.”
Cheers wanted her work to be an honest documentation on how we connect in the digital age, which meant fending off some particularly ridiculous advances.
Like Matt, who felt that “charm my sack” was a heart-winning opening line. “It was fascinating that they would even try with that,” Cheers says. “I just think there’s something sexy about a slow play. Tinder kind of removes the romance and you rush through the entire process, which isn’t something that I particularly enjoy.”
With men as the majority of her dates, Cheers noticed a subtle power shift, as if her camera lens was reversing traditional gender roles. Her subjects began questioning whether she was actually interested in them as a person or simply as an art project.
“So often women are seen as objects and ask those sort of questions,” she says. “It was really empowering to see it from the other side of the fence.”
On Success, And Taking Risks
Cheers is an extremely talented photographer — at 24 she was named among Rangefinder magazine’s 30 rising stars in wedding photography — but fell into the craft almost by accident. She was given the subject thanks to a high school administrative error, and discovered her talent after letting her classmates cheat off her work.
Everyone got A’s. “From that point I was like: ‘Maybe this is something I’m good at’,” she says.
Born in Queensland and growing up in Adelaide, her love of travel was inspired by her “gypsy parents”; Cheers moved to Byron Bay for two years before a dream job offer with top wedding photographer Christian Oth, which sent her halfway across the world to New York City in 2012. Problem was, the job kind of turned out to be a nightmare.
Feeling trapped and burnt out but determined not to let NYC chew her up and spit her out, Cheers started to get creative. She connected with fellow photographer Spencer Lum and together they launched The Brooklyn Collective last year, bringing together 11 handpicked wedding photographers to champion and mentor one-another.
The collective launched with a bang in August, with a group exhibition entitled Modern Romance. About 400 people turned up, including some of the men featured in Cheers’ Tinderella project. “There was a moment when I stood back and watched them talk to one another … that was kind of intense,” she says. “It was kind of like a dream, all of these beautiful men all in one room.”
On top of all this awesomeness, Cheers often gallivants around the world on all-expenses-paid press trips to far-flung places like Taipei and Haiti for her travel blog, Tempting Alice.
“People tell me all the time how lucky I am. It has nothing to do with luck. I actively pursue this lifestyle for myself. No one really gave me these opportunities, I’ve always created them,” she says.
“You have to take risks and there’s no point where making that change is not going to be scary. You have to just jump off the cliff and go for it. You don’t really know how it’s going to turn out but you at least need to push yourself out there.”
So did she find her happily ever after? Cheers says she felt a connection with several men but the frenetic pace of the project didn’t allow her to explore those feelings. “A lot of them developed into platonic friendships, which has been super positive. I don’t know about whether they’ll evolve into more but I’m definitely open to that,” she says.
Either way, Cheers plans to extend Tinderella to include interviews with her dates, and potentially a comic book. She’s working on a related project for next year, too, in which she’ll advertise on Craigslist for someone willing to volunteer a list of their previous sexual partners, before attempting to contact and photograph past lovers.
“My hope is that I’ll build an idea of who this person could be through the eyes of all their past lovers,” she says.
Read more about Kirra Cheers and Tinderella here.